Spring Cleaning: Why Is the Navy Scrapping Two Dozen Growler Aircraft?

Spring Cleaning: Why Is the Navy Scrapping Two Dozen Growler Aircraft?

The Navy will decommission twenty-five Growler electronic warfare aircraft.

 

In a recently-released document covering fiscal year 2023 budgetary proposals, the U.S. Navy explained that it would like to decommission a large part of its EA-18G Growler aircraft fleet.

“Decommission Five Active Component Expeditionary Electronic Attack Squadrons (VAQs). Divests of all non-carrier-based EA-18G Growler support of joint force requirements for tactical airborne electronic attack (AEA) capability and capacity,” the document explained.

 

“Divestment involves decommissioning five Growler squadrons, collectively consisting of 25 airframes and approximately 1,020 associated officer and enlisted billets. Military end strength will be reduced by half in FY 2024 and fully in FY 2025. Associated aircraft will be placed in long-term preservation at the Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group (AMARG). Half of the aircraft will be inducted in FY 2024 and the remainder in FY 2025.”

The Growler, long the Navy’s electronic warfare mainstay, will only operate aboard U.S. Navy carriers—not on land.

Growlers in Europe

Interestingly, the Pentagon recently sent a small contingent of Growler aircraft to Germany in order to bolster NATO’s presence in the region. The Growlers, six aircraft in total, usually are stationed at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, and will now be stationed at Spangdahlem Air Base in Germany.

The Growlers in Germany will be accompanied by a total of 240 aircrew, aircraft maintainers, and pilots. Notably, the deployment comes at a time of significantly increased tensions in Europe amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

EA-18G Growler Aircraft

The Growler is a specialized variant of the F/A-18F Super Hornet, a two-seater jet airplane. The jet can complete a variety of missions but is optimized for an electronic warfare role. Thanks to an extensive suite of jamming sensors, Growlers fly primarily to suppress enemy air defenses.

At sea, the Growler has proven to be a commander favorite, so much so that aircraft carrier commanders appear to be mulling the decision to fly with extra Growlers. The pairing of advanced fifth-generation F-35 fighters with the fourth-generation Growlers allows for a unique team-up opportunity and leverages the older airplane’s powerful long-distance jamming capabilities.

The Growler is poised to receive a new jamming pod, called the Next Generation Jammer, which will be a significant improvement over the current ALQ-99 tactical jammers. One reason the Navy is slowly moving to divest itself of land-based Growlers could be that the U.S. Air Force may integrate the Next Generation Jammers into its new F-15EX jets.

Still, the rationale behind this decision remains, for the moment, opaque.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and defense writer with the National Interest. A graduate of UCLA, he also holds a Master of Public Policy and lives in Berlin. He covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technology, focusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society for both print and radio. Follow him on Twitter @calebmlarson.

Image: U.S. Navy/Flickr.